Stupid Mental Health Walks

Fun fact: I haven’t REALLY watched our season of The Amazing Race. Yes, the show was on in the background but I was always trying to distract myself while it was airing. Seeing our images on the screen brings me right back to the spot where I could feel the crush of panic. Even as the finale was airing, I turned to watch my kids’ reaction … for some reason I couldn’t watch it myself. 

What made the race experience hard for me, I think, is that I couldn’t do all the things I needed to do to get myself out of the panic spiral. 

Let’s Start With The Basics

I’m devoting 30 days to write about ways I am committing to focus on my mental health journey, so I should start with the basics. 

How do I function when my anxiety is peaking? 

There are days I wake up with that familiar pressure in the center of my chest. Sometimes it bubbles up to my throat as if I could start crying if I had to talk. Some days, I can pinpoint the cause: Someone I love is going through something hard, I have a daunting to-do list, or any one of ten thousand other things life hands us all. On the days when I can feel that familiar vibration … I start walking. 

I’ll talk more about the impact of exercise and weight training down the road, but first … my walks. 

There’s something about putting one foot in front of the other that can be meditative for me. I have made an effort to get outside for at least 30 minutes every single day this year. I started in December and I’ve (mostly) kept with it. 

How I Walk

I don’t walk to hit a certain speed or heart rate – my walks have a moving meditation. 

It’s hard to describe, but my brand of anxiety feels like the static you hear between the AM radio stations… except I feel like it’s being broadcast from my neck and chest. 

On those days I have to get really prescriptive about my walks. Here’s what I do: 

1. PICK A COLOR: On this morning’s walk I chose purple and I spent the time searching for that color in my surroundings. Today I saw it in the graffiti on an overpass, flowers in a field, some near a creek. I was alert and searching so I also spotted a family of deer shocked still in the trees nearby. If I had not been intent on finding purple, I would have missed them. Focusing on things outside myself keeps me present.

2. BREAK IT UP: Though there have been days I’ve walked well over 10 miles, there are just as many days when I’ve taken several shorter walks around my block. I don’t often have hours on end to devote to walks so I will stand up every hour or so from my desk and start walking. For safety reasons, when we were on The Amazing Race we had to quarantine when we weren’t actually racing. So that meant we were in hotel rooms unable to leave (without our phones or computers or ways to contact family). Penn knew I needed to walk so he would hold my hand and we would make circles around the hotel rooms. (It’s reason #47983 why I know he’s my person.) I think anyone else would have been so annoyed with me pacing the floor, but he made it a fun game. “Look here!” he would say pointing to the generic art hanging over the bed, “I think those brushes of white represent the beach… doesn’t it feel like we’re on a beach right now?”  

I’m recommitting to my daily walks. You’ll find me outside, rain or shine, for at least 30 minutes a day this month and beyond. I call them my “stupid mental health walks”. I don’t always look forward to getting it done, hence the name “stupid”. I can be like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum sometimes as I’m lacing up, but every single time, I feel better. 

Join me on these stupid mental health walks, won’t you? 

Be well,